At 72, China's 'Liberace' still wows fans

Updated: 2013-10-29 08:32

By Deng Xianlai in Washington (China Daily USA)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

 At 72, China's 'Liberace' still wows fans

Yin Chengzong is flanked by three younger admirers, from left Peter Qiu, Alyssa Wang, and Alena Lu, all currently practicing piano. Cai Chunying / China Daily

To the tens of millions of Chinese kids learning piano today, the name of Yin Chengzong may not ring a bell, but to their parents, or even grandparents, that name still resonates as their first — if not only — impression of piano.

Yin's October 26 recital in Washington, however, still drew a sizeable Chinese audience here, many of whom brought their children along to the concert hall to experience first-hand Yin's virtuosity. The concert was part of Yin's 2013 North America tour presented by the Washington Ark Foundation (WAF), a non-profit organization committed to bridging Sino-American cultural and business exchanges. "Tickets for the concert have all been sold out," Lyu Mei of the WAF told China Daily.

The pianist, 72, is best known in both China and the West for the Yellow River Piano Concerto that he and others transcribed in 1969 from the original Yellow River Cantata composed by Chinese composer Xian Xinghai during the Anti-Japanese War. This work was the climax of his career, which came during the Cultural Revolution, a time when access to pianos and Western classical music was banned.

Since his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1983, Yin, who now lives in New York City, has performed on five continents and is still actively performing around the globe with a comprehensive repertoire.

At the recital on Saturday, Yin played works of Mozart, Schubert and Brahms, plus the Moonlight over Spring River that he arranged based on an ancient Chinese melody. "These works are always ready at my hands, but to combine them in one recital, I had to prepare for about a year," said Yin, adding that he had always loved the works of Classical and Romantic German and Austrian composers, but especially now as he grows older.

Like many Chinese musicians who emerged in the early years of the People's Republic, Yin's style of play bears the influence of what is known as the Russian-Soviet School. In 1960, the young pianist, a rising star, was sent to the Leningrad Conservatory in Soviet Russia and won second prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition two years later.

Recalling those years, Yin said, "That was indeed an important phase of my career. It laid a solid foundation for me. But in terms of style, I don't think I bear an apparent style of a certain school anymore, since I have been in the US for 30 years now and have acquired so many different influences."

Yin has said on many occasions that Chinese pianists should develop their own style of play and that introducing Chinese music to the world is vital. He has transcribed Chinese traditional music for piano, so as to let Westerners better understand it. "Musicians like me, we all end up at this age being amateur composers," Yin said jokingly.

After the recital, parents flocked to Yin for his autograph and picture. Stephanie Zoltick, a fourth grader, said, "I like the Chinese song most, it's like a river flowing." Chen Yujia, a Chinese child, also liked the recital, saying he would go again.

Asked what he hoped for the younger generation, Yin said: "They should only play the piano if they like it. If they don't like it and play solely for other people, they're better off not playing at all." Given that there are 30 million Chinese children now playing the piano, Yin has expectations for future stars.

Americans, though few in number at the recital, enjoyed Yin's performance as well. Dennis Glanzman, accompanied by his Chinese wife, said this was not the first time he had heard Yin play. "My wife and I came to see him about 15 years ago when he was at the University of Maryland, and that was very early in our marriage, so this is kind of a revisit to that earlier time that we have spent together, and it's a nice memory for both of us," he said.

For China Daily